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    EOL Coverage of Chefs Championships at IHMRS

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    Preparing Lobster for Competition

How is Chocolate Made?

Can I Make Chocolate?

Ever wondered how chocolate is made and whether you could make it yourself? It is probably the dream of many a chocolate lover to be able to churn out trays of personalized chocolate delights at will. Well, if you are the adventurous type and are patient with a little time on your hands and you have a few choice pieces of equipment, then you too could learn the much coveted art of chocolate making.

Before we get into the domesticated version of chocolate making, it would be beneficial to understand the tried and tested processes that the industry uses to make large volumes of our favorite treat.

It all begins with the raw material 'cacoa'. The cacoa tree produces a pod containing a number of seeds or beans (as they are commonly known) in its center surrounded by a pulp all enclosed in a thick fleshy skin. The pods are a picked, opened and the contents put into large wooden bins which are covered and left to ferment for a few days. Once they are adequately fermented, they are laid out to dry in the sun for a week or so. When the beans are sufficiently dried they are sorted, separated by category and roasted in large ovens for up to half an hour where they darken and the flavor of the bean is enhanced.

The beans are then broken and separated from their shell by a process known as cracking and winnowing, which uses compressed air to blow the shells away from the seeds. The resulting fragmented pieces are known as cocoa nibs.

Now the nibs are finely ground. The grinding process releases the fat content which combines with the grounded solids to form a thick paste called liquor. The liquor gives rise to two other substances, cocoa butter obtained by pressing the fat from the liquor and the remaining dried cocoa which is most commonly use to make drinking chocolate.

Solid chocolate is made by further refining the liquor using a process known as conching, which smooths and aerates it and then combining it with cocoa butter sugar, milk or milk powder (for milk chocolate), an emulsifier such as soy lecithin and (or) vanilla. The combined solution is then tempered by a process of carefully heating, cooling and allowing it to set several times, becoming more refined with each cycle. And basically, that is how chocolate is made.

Now, it would be unrealistic to expect you to find your own cacoa pods to pick and ferment (let alone sun dry in the middle of winter), so you can skip the earlier phases as raw cacoa is now commonly available to buy.

Roast the cacoa in your oven for up to half an hour at a temperature not more than 325F, you may want to experiment with this as roasting times may vary considerably depending on the type of bean you are using and the intensity of your oven however, ensure that you don't burn them as it will seriously affect the taste.

After roasting, allow the cacoa to cool, crack the beans in a mill, this will allow the husk to come away from the bean. The light husk can then be separated from the crushed bean using a small fan, hair drier or any other practical device that blows cool air.

When the separation process is complete, the beans must be finely ground using a good quality juicer which will produce the cocoa liquor. Add cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin and milk (if you're making milk chocolate) plus any other flavoring you require. At this stage the solution although chocolaty is still in need of refinement and conching which is accomplished using a conching machine. Conching can take anything between 12 hours and 2 days depending on the quality of chocolate being made but if you don't have a conching machine you can use a wet grinder to remove any remaining solid particles.

Finally the chocolate must be tempered. Tempering will give the chocolate its glossy sheen and crisp snap. This is done by gently heating it to about 115F, pour some of the liquid onto a marble slab and gently work it around for around 10 minutes, as it cools to about 85F and begins to set, add more of the simmering liquid now being maintained at about 95F, and continue to work it back and fourth on the slab. Now return it to the rest of heated liquid and repeat the process. The extent of refinement will depend on how many times you repeat this process. Pour the liquid into a mold, allow it to set and finally...Enjoy.

Hopefully from this basic overview, you will appreciate the skill, time and care that goes into making good quality chocolate. There is no substitute for experience in this art, as subtle variations to the process can dramatically affect the taste and texture of the finished product. So you may just wish to continue enjoying your favorite treat already professionally prepared for you by the hands of the masters.

Lloyd Gordon markets quality products online. To see his luxury chocolate presentations visit http://www.chocolatetray.com

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